Rochester, N.Y. --- Active criminal cases and investigations are revealing a new trend in how sexual predators search for victims.
Video game systems. Playstation 3, X-Box, even your child’s computer games are often able to connect to the internet, go online, and open up your home to the world.
At the FBI an elite team of "Cyber Cops" catches online criminals in all sorts of ways. But even they admit, these online gaming systems create a new, virtual world, that is tough to police.
"These games are really good, the Uncharted Series," Danny Parker, 13, said while smiling and playing Playstation 3 in the living room of his Brighton home. "Today I have no homework so I might be playing...a lot I guess."
Parker’s dad is one of those parents who takes an active interest in what games his son is playing.
"Our relationship is good ... I can ask him and he'll answer honestly if he can play that game, if I would approve of him playing that game,” Peter Parker said of his son Danny.
Chris Lucas, a gamer and a store manager at GameStop in Eastview Mall, took some time to explain how the games work. An online chatting feature connects the game consoles, specifically the Playstation 3 and X-Box, to the internet. Gamers can talk through a speaker, with headsets on, and even listen to other gamers talk through the TV speakers.
Some game systems come with webcams that could allow strangers in the cyber world to see your entire living room.
"It's a fairly wide-angle lens,” Lucas said of the Playstation 3 webcam. “It's not focused in on your face so it's got a full view of the room."
Even the language gamers use in these online chats can surprise parents.
“You can mute the people so you don't always have to hear everyone, but some people like don't care what they say and they just curse and stuff," Danny Parker said.
But cursing is far from criminal and parents should take note of these cases.
Last month Angie Jenkins, 35, a mother to several children began a seven year prison sentence after admitting that she had traveled from Michigan to the Buffalo area and had sex with a 15 year-old boy. She met the boy while playing the popular online game "World of Warcraft."
In Greece, Richard Kretovic, 19, was arrested in April after police say he convinced a local boy he met while playing "X-Box Live" to come over to his house. Police say Kretovic then sexually abused the boy on multiple occasions while the two were in his basement.
"The subjects, the defendants, come from all walks of life," FBI Special Agent Jeff Tricoli of the Cyber Squad unit said. "It is always the same subjects on the other end; they're people preying on the weakness and the frailties of individuals to get what they want."
“Kids are not going into these gaming situations looking to make a relationship with somebody,” Alison Tuff an FBI Victim Specialist said. “A lot of times it's so sneaky on the part of the predator that the kid doesn't see it coming."
An elite team of FBI agents and local police target online criminals in a variety of ways. This team of “Cyber Cops” helped put Angie Jenkins behind bars. But even they admit that catching bad guys in the gaming world isn't like surfing online chat rooms for sexual predators.
"It's very difficult to continue with that online persona to actually target the bad guys, because the bad guys quickly realize--'Hey this isn't a 13 year-old boy I'm chatting with, it's an FBI agent!'"
Which puts the responsibility right back on parents and their children.
"To me there really aren't words to describe how frustrating it is that that can happen, that those things do happen," Peter Parker said.
"I wish more parents would ask us, 'Hey what can I expect from this game?'” Lucas said of his job at GameStop. “Because we're more than willing to tell you everything you're going to hear, good or bad, so you can make an educated decision as to whether it's appropriate for your child."
With that in mind, Lucas offers this first piece of advice to parents; be careful with the ratings on each of these games. “E” is for Everyone, “T” is for Teen, and “M” is for Mature audiences--but, Lucas points out, those ratings only apply to the content of the game itself; once a child logs online, the rating for that game means nothing at all.